By Alan Price, HR director at Peninsula

Personal and romantic relationships at work are an inevitable by-product of the amount of time we spend and dedicate to our professional lives.

Our colleagues are the people that we engage with most on a daily basis, so it comes as no surprise that the lines between professional and personal often become blurred. Despite how common this issue is, personal relationships at work still remain one of the toughest challenges for employers to manage. It is imperative that employers take steps to implement an effective policy, which helps prevent or alleviate the difficulties that can be caused as a result of personal relationships at work.

It is important to note that personal and romantic relationships are essentially private between the individuals involved, and as a result, employers need to ensure that they are aware of their employees' right to privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998. In spite of this, employers are well within their rights to place a ban on personal relationships at work, which, in theory, sounds ideal, but in reality is extremely difficult to achieve, with the fact that they can easily opt into ‘secret relationships’.

Conflicts tend to arise more from relationships that develop between senior figures and their subordinates. Relationships of this nature have the potential to give rise to claims of sexual harassment, leaving the employer liable to potential legal tribunal claims. Additionally, senior-delegate relationships can create considerable problems with the rest of the workforce, if they believe that the relationship has led to the subordinate in question receiving preferential treatment with regards to tasks given and roles on projects.

Implementing a clear and effective policy regarding workplace relationships can provide employers with the tools they require to take affirmative action when conflicts arise or are set to arise. The policy can include the company’s perspective on senior-delegate office relationships, in addition to relationships between equal level colleagues. It may also dictate whether personal relationships need to be disclosed, and in the case of conflict, whether the company has the right to switch one of the employees involved to a separate department. It is important to note, that should you choose to employ the latter option, then care must be taken to ensure that the decision does not enter into sexual discrimination territory.

Avoiding instances of sexual harassment taking place in the work environment should be of the upmost importance to employers in order to effectively deal with any claims that are brought forward. Proving that you, as an employer have taken adequate steps to prevent this from happening may include; educating employees on workplace romances to make them aware of the potential effects and consequences of pursing these. Moreover, it would be advised all employees are informed as to the company’s expectations of professional workplace practice and behaviour and further training on sexual harassment policies and procedures currently in place.